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August 27, 2012

EV Symposium Highlights Growth of Plug-In Vehicles

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What a difference a year makes.

At last year's Silicon Valley EV Symposium -- the annual event is hosted by SAP and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group -- there were a handful of plug-in vehicles in the parking lot. This year's had a whole parade.

"EVs are no longer the future. They're here now," said Ken Srebnik of Nissan, who added that plug-in Nissan Leafs have driven over 100 million miles oil-free worldwide.

Many auto reps attended the two-day "Charged 2012" event and brought their cars with them, including the Mercedes F-Cell, the BMW ActiveE, the Honda Fit EV, and the Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-emotion.

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More types of plug-ins are available on the lot than ever before. And thousands of plug-ins are now on the road, racking up oil-free miles. These fantastic cars will be key components in the Obama administration's new vehicle standards, to be announced soon, of 54.5 mile per gallon average for all cars by 2025. These standards will spare more than 3 million barrels of oil everyday, save Americans billions at the pump, and slash U.S. climate pollution by 10 percent by 2030.

Much of the Symposium's dialogue was solutions-oriented. Imagine a car that gives you real-time data on traffic and available public parking and charging stations. ("A smart phone on wheels," said Johann Jungwirth of Mercedes.) Others buzzed about technological advances like vehicle-to-grid electricity sharing, fast charging in 10-30 minutes, and the prospect of EV batteries that allow for 500 miles of driving before having to charge again.

Another hot topic was America's fleets. Last year, the Obama administration announced that federal fleets are to buy 100-percent alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric vehicles by 2015. A growing number of businesses and municipalities are slowly following suit. Fleet managers at the Symposium lauded the huge cost savings of going electric.

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"Electricity rates are pretty standard. Gas prices aren't," said Google's fleet coordinator Rolf Schreiber. Google now has 22 Chevy Volts and 16 Nissan Leafs, with a few Ford Focus Electrics on the way later this year, he said.

When annual fuel savings are in the hundreds of thousands, municipalities and corporations take notice. Bob Nalbandian, a Frito-Lay fleet manager, said his company's 300 electric trucks this year will save 250,000 gallons of diesel.

"Our parent company, Pepsi, had asked us, 'What will you do to cut fuel costs by 50 percent?' When you're asked a question like that, you have to really do something. We were doing a lot of things in efficiency and some natural gas, but going electric was the solution that came to us quick," he said.

It's an exciting time for plug-in enthusiasts. People are tired of filling up at the pump, and they're looking for alternatives. More car makers offering electric vehicles means more selection and competition -- a big plus for consumers who are curious and open to making the switch and plugging in.

Visit the Sierra Club's EV Campaign.

-- Brian Foley


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